After the French defeat by the Prussians during Franco/Prussian War, Napoleon III, his wife Empress Eugenie, lived in exile in England. They rented the country home Camden Place in Chiselhurst, a small retinue of Frenchmen accompanied them.
Charles Louis Napoleon. Napoleon III.
The Prince Imperial was at a loose end, no one knew what to do with him and he showed no interest in academics. A friend of the family suggested that he go to Woolich, the officer training school for engineers and the royal artillery. *The Duke of Cambridge was approached and he agreed.
Suddenly the Prince had a goal in life and he tackled it enthusiastically. In 1872 he entered "the Shop" as the training establishment was called. Here his latent academic abilities came to the fore, his English improved and he found he had a flair for mathematics. In 1875 he graduated 1st in riding and fencing, and 7th overall. The first 10 candidates could opt for a coveted commission in the Royal engineers. Louis could not be commissioned, but he opted for the Royal artillery, saying he came from a family of gunners.
The Prince Imperial as a cadet at Woolich.
At Woolich the Prince was well liked and fully accepted, even becoming a member of "The Alpine Club," a group of cadets who used to decorate the church steeples with chamber pots on the eve of inspections by the Duke of Cambridge.
Then came the British defeat at Isandhlwana and most the Prince's friends from the shop were off to war. More than anything else he wanted to go, part of it was a youthful lust for adventure, but part was political. If he proved himself on the field of battle the French might accept him and his claim to the throne.
The Prince wrote to the Duke of Cambridge and begged permission to go. The Duke was willing enough, but the Prime Minister Disraeli was against, thinking what the French reaction would be if anything should happen to the Prince. The Empress Eugenie approached Queen Victoria who added her pressure on the Government. The Duke came up with the idea that the Prince could go as a "spectator", if he should happen to wear a uniform, that was his business. On the 28th of February, 1879, The Prince Imperial sailed for South Africa,
The Duke Of Cambridge sent the following letter to Chelmsford, the General commanding the British forces invading Zululand.
My Dear Chelmsford,
This letter will be forwarded to you by the Prince Imperial, who is going out on his own account to see as much as he can of the coming campaign in Zululand. He is extremely anxious to go out and wanted to be employed in our army, but the Government did not consider that this could be sanctioned, but have sanctioned me only to you and to Sir Bartle Frere to say that if you can shew him kindness and tender him a position to see as much as he can with the columns in the Field I hope you will do so. He is a fine young fellow, full of spirit and pluck, having many old cadet friends in the Artillery, he will find no difficulty in getting on and if you can help him in any other way please do so. My only anxiety on his conduct would be that he is too plucky and go ahead.
I remain, my dear Chelmsford,
Yours most sincerely,
The harassed Chelmsford was agast, he had enough on his plate, and now he had to look after The Prince Imperial and keep him safe. Not knowing what to do with the prince, Chelmsford offered him the position of extra ADC on his staff. The Prince donned a luitenants uniform without badge or insignia of rank.
Frederick Agustus Thesiger, 2nd Baron Chelmsford. G.C.B., G.R.V.O. General Commanding the British Forces during the Anglo Zulu War.
In Durban the Prince bought a horse called Percy, the owner of the horse informed him that Percy was inclined to be skittish, but otherwise Percy was a fine horse.
The following is an extract from "Washing of the Spears."
On the second of May the General took his staff by way of Landmans Drift, Koppie Allein and Conference Hill to visit Evely Wood at Kambula. Here Louis met his old friends Bigge and Slade who had served their guns during the attack on the camp. [Isandhlwana] He was in fact meeting old friends and making new ones at every stop. It was impossible not to like him, his enthusiasm was infectious.He gloried in roughing it, refusing what few amenities camp life offered, and he volunteered for everything. He continued to show off. He habitually vaulted into the saddle, and was determined to master any horse that gave his rider trouble. He also sliced potatoes flung at him as he rode past, using the sword his great-uncle had carried at Austerlitz.
At Utrecht in Northern Natal Chelmsford placed the Prince on Colonel Richard Harrison, R.E., Acting Quartermaster-General's staff, who was responsible for supplies and transport and reconnoitering the track in Zululand for the IInd division. The posting would take him off Chelmsford's back and doing a job that entailed minimum risk.
On the 15th of May 1879, Louis accompanied a reconnaissance foray with 200 men under command of Colonel Redvers Buller. With such a large force he was considered to be safe enough.
Bvt. Lt. Col. Redvers Buller. In 1899 Buller as General Sir Redvers Buller, he would command the British Forces during the Anglo Boer War. He was replaced as commander in this conflict by General Roberts.
Louis was in transports of delight. He was young healthy, armed and well mounted, riding through the magnificent open hills under a wide blue sky, and the enemy he had come so far to meet might be encountered any moment. All his immaturity came to the fore. He was thrilled when a few Zulu scouts were seen near Itelezi Hill, dejected when the pursuit was called off because the Zulus retired in a direction Buller did not wish to explore. Louis had charged far in advance of the Light Horse, searching for a straggler to engage, and before the troopers caught up with him he had taken off again in solitary chase of a lone Zulu he had spotted on a nearby knoll. Buller, who for all his bulldog impassiveness had a first rate imagination, was disgusted with him. They were on a patrol, not a Zulu hunt, and if Louis got entangled he would draw others in after him. Buller could control men assigned to him - none better - but a Prince of France in a private capacity was something else again. The whole arrangement was fantastic, and he determined to get his charge of his hands as soon possible. He led the way north until dark fell, bivouacking in a tight ring without fires. Louis unaware of Bullers reaction, was too excited to sleep. The men had named the site of the morning's incident Napoleon Koppie, and the proud youth paced up and down through the cold night, warming himself with snatches of French martial airs, to the great annoyance of the others.
By the sixteenth they were back at Wolf's Hill camp and Louis continued with his normal duties in camp on Harrison's staff.
Part three to follow.
*The Duke of Cambridge was the Commander in Chief of the British Army.
The present Duke of Cambridge is HRH Prince William.
Sources: Washing of the Spears, by Donald R Morris, & Internet.
All photos from the Internet.